The Sydney Morning Herald
May 16, 2007
Estonia has urged its allies in the European Union and NATO to take firm
action against a new mode of warfare that has been unleashed on the
Baltic state in a bitter row with Russia over a Soviet war memorial:
"Taking into account what has been going on in Estonian cyber-space,
both the EU and NATO clearly need to take a much stronger approach and
cooperate closely to develop practical ways of combatting
cyber-attacks," Estonian Defence Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told AFP
"Considering the scale of damage and the way these cyber-attacks have
been organised, we can compare them to terrorist activities," Aaviksoo
said a day after raising the new mode of warfare at talks with his
fellow EU defence ministers in Brussels.
Estonian institutional websites have been under regular cyber-attack
since the end of last month, when a row blew up with Russia over the
removal from central Tallinn of a memorial to Soviet Red Army soldiers.
Officials in Estonia, including Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, have
claimed that some of the cyber-attacks, which forced the authorities in
the Baltic state to temporarily shut down websites, came from Russian
government computers, including in the office of President Vladimir
"The cyber-attacks against government websites have come in waves: they
start and end, and then start again after a few days' break," said
Hillar Aarelaid, head of the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT),
which was set up last year to tackle "security incidents" in Estonia's
.ee Internet domain.
"Last Friday, we hoped it was all over but the new massive attack
against one of the biggest banks on Tuesday showed we were too
"Cyber-attacks also have been launched against banks, newspapers,
schools and many other institutions," Aarelaid told AFP.
Estonia's second-biggest bank, Swedish-owned SEB Eesti Uhispank, was
forced Tuesday to block access from abroad to its online banking service
after it came under "massive cyber-attack", a spokesman for the bank,
Silver Vohu, said.
Hansapank, the biggest bank in Estonia, came under attack last week.
The first wave of cyber-attacks against official websites fizzled out
after Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet publicly declared that many
of the attacks had originated from Russian government computers.
The new wave of attacks was coming from "around the world," Aarelaid
"Even computers as far away as Vietnam have been involved in
cyber-attacks against Estonia. The attackers try to restrict access to
Estonian websites and in some cases have tried to change the information
on the website they have attacked," Aarelaid said.
The attacks might originate in computers around the world, but they
still have Russian roots, he said.
"The net has been full of Russian language instructions on how to
inflict damage on Estonian cyber-space," Aarelaid said.
Cyber-attacks are such a new phenomenon that there are no universal
rules available on how to strike back at them.
"We haven't yet defined what can be considered to be a cyber-attack, or
what are the rights of member states and the obligations of EU and NATO
in the event such attacks are launched," Aaviksoo said.
"The EU and NATO need to work out a common legal basis to deal with
cyber attacks. For example, we have to agree on how to tackle different
levels of criminal cyber-activities, depending on whether what we are
dealing with is vandalism, cyber-terror or cyber-war," he said.
Aarelaid agreed: "The unprecedented cyber-attacks against Estonia have
clearly indicated we need much stronger regulations in this area.
"You could compare this with what our great-grandparents faced when cars
first started to appear on the streets. Eventually, there were so many
of them that new, strict rules needed to be implemented."
The cyber-attacks against Estonia were launched after the authorities
here moved a monument to Soviet soldiers who fought fascism in World War
II, from the city block where it stood in central Tallinn to a military
cemetery in a quiet neighbourhood of the capital.
Russians see the monument as a sacred memorial to the millions of Soviet
soldiers who died in the war, while to Estonians it is a reminder of 50
years of Soviet occupation.
The removal of the monument drew the ire of Moscow and triggered riots
in Tallinn by members of Estonia's ethnic Russian minority that makes up
around one-quarter of the Baltic republic's population of 1.34 million.
It also set off the cyber-attacks, which have drawn condemnation from
the European Union, individual EU member states, the United States and
NATO defence ministers will discuss cyber defence at a meeting in
Brussels in June.
(c) 2006 AFP
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